As I move to another town, in another country, to pursue my research career, I ponder about what we could call the good, the bad and the ugly of mobility. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, which I completed in the same city where I grew up (Madrid), I was eager to move abroad. I had already completed a year abroad during my studies (in Bangor, Wales), yet I yearned for more opportunities to learn new ways of doing things and “explore the world”. Because to me, that is what mobility means: learning and experiencing new things. Happily, I was successful in securing funds to do a Master’s degree in the USA. I landed in Binghamton, New York, which is probably (heck, definitely) not in any top destination list but I did get my learning and experiencing. I learned that US supermarkets have entire aisles full of ice-cream, which can be purchased in gallons. I improved my English, studied ecology and spider behavior, and made friends from different places and cultures (including one I later married). Clearly satisfied with the mobility experience I decided to also pursue a PhD abroad. I remained in the US but moved a couple thousand kilometers to Tempe (Arizona) where I learned about the true meaning of a hot day and the potential for human-scorpion coexistence. After exploring the Americas (and getting my PhD), I returned to Europe, first for a 1-year postdoc in Paris (where I learned that apparently I cannot properly pronounce “baguette”), followed by 5.5 years back “home” in Sevilla. In Sevilla I relearned the meaning of a hot day… and also came to the realization that I am no longer “Spanish”. Because experiencing new ways changes you. For me the good about mobility is the experiencing of new things, the opening of your mind and worldview.
The bad is what I am experiencing right now, as I am settling in Reading, UK. Finding a new place to live, learning where to do your shopping, figuring out how to get car insurance or a good vet… It all is part of the adventure but if you are a perfectionist (like me) then it can be really stressful because you may spend three days searching the web about car insurance just to make sure you choose the “best” (part of the paradox of too much choice). And no, we still haven’t decided on car insurance.
Finally, the ugly part of moving is the unavoidable disruption of social networks. The fact is that every time you move you lose friends. You may promise to keep in touch, you may even do it for a while, but once you lose the chance of grabbing a coffee/beer/(insert your favorite beverage here) then the friendship suffers. There are a few friends who will hang in there, but most people slowly disappear from your life. Sure, you may make new friends, but I have noticed making friends gets increasingly difficult as one ages. Therefore, my social network keeps getting narrower and its links get weaker. The level of support and intimacy you can expect from a person you met two weeks ago is simply not the same as from that school buddy you still call a friend. As you move you often also leave family behind, and with aging parents that can be hard. I did not worry about this when I moved abroad for the first time 15 years ago, but now I do.
All in all for me the balance of mobility is positive, and I would encourage everyone to live abroad at least once. Nevertheless, I hope I won’t be moving soon again. England is my new home.